Updated: Jul 19
Jemez Mountains in General - HOORAY! Forest roads are open! All but a few forest roads will open about April 15 – sometimes it may take the Forest Service a few days to open all the closed roads, but historically this is all done by April 18 or so. The roads that remain closed are special cases, often resource protection or park opening related. The best known of these is FR 376 above NM 126 which goes to San Antonio Hot Springs – it opens July 1, but the hot springs are still available if you are willing to hike the 4.3 miles of FR 376 above NM 126. We have had a few minor runoff events due to warm early April temps. I have come to think of runoff as that point at which there is no longer any snow left in the drainage.
At this writing (4/10) we are close – watch for Mt. Redondo to lose all its snow soon.
I drove to Los Alamos on April 1 in a snowstorm that started at about 8000 feet and got heavier above 9000 – so watch for those rare instances, but we should be nearly snow-free until next winter. With roads opening many trails also open. Examples include trails in the San Pedro Parks, Dome, and Bandelier Wildernesses. Valles Caldera back-country trials will remain closed until mid-May. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trails in the Ojito, San Ysidro, and Cabezon areas are open, but as the weather warms, they can be a hot walk – go now before it gets uncomfortable! This is also true of other low elevation trails such as FR-269 (see Hiking) and the High School trails in Canon.
Winter fishing for stocked fish on the lower Jemez River is nearly over. Breaking news - Fenton Lake is open for fishing! The transition of stocking to the upper elevation streams should happen this month also, with the early stockings at Battleship Rock and the Rio Cebolla, followed by the Rio San Antonio in La Cueva.
Wild fish are much more accessible with the forest road openings. Spring cutthroat hot spots include the Rio Frijoles and Capulin Creek in the Bandelier Wilderness, Rito Las Perchas and Rio de Las Vacas in the San Pedro Parks. Early brown trout hot spots include the San Antonio above NM 126 and below La Cueva, and the Rio Guadalupe.
Scenic drives and camping opportunities will improve dramatically with forest road openings. Spring is also the time when bears come down to lower elevations to plunder bird feeders and garbage cans. Snakes start appearing around this time so watch for Jemez Adventures Newsletter April 2022 rattlers. Bull snakes can deliver a non-poisonous bite that really hurts – stay clear. Turkeys, badgers, deer, and other Jemez wildlife will be much more active in the next 6 – 8 weeks, please leave them room to roam.
HIKING – Trails in the Jemez above 7500 feet still have some remnant snow and ice patches (4/8) so take care – avoid slippery or muddy areas – falls on a hike are no fun. The muddy time after runoff is short (a week or so) unless we have more snow or a hard rain. For mid to late April my recommendations for a hike would include:
Las Conchas Rec Area and Fishing Access trails on NM 4.
Cerro Grande Trail near the intersection of NM 4 and FR 289
The Ojito Wilderness trails should be in fine shape in April and will still be cool.
Lower elevation trails, e.g., behind the high school in Canon, FR 269 in
Ponderosa, the San Ysidro trails, and the Perea Nature Trail are all fun in April.
The East Fork Trail in Battleship Rock is in rough shape due to downed trees.
Hikers have made new paths through the deadfall. It’s better above Jemez Falls if it’s dry.
Note: VCNP back country vehicle permits aren’t available until mid-May so the road-trails off VC-02 and VC-09 are not accessible in April.
The featured hike for the last half of April is FR 269 in Ponderosa. This is a forest road that has been closed to vehicles for resource protection but not to hikers and was selected as a fall hike in this column in 2021. This trail can be hot in the summer but is typically perfect (if dry) in April and May for a great hike. I hiked it April 2 for roughly 3.4 miles round trip. The first mile or so the trail climbs continuously but at a slow rise that isn’t too bad. The views are super, with distant sights of cool rock formations and foothills. The Sandias can be seen from the trail and if one hikes in 5 or 6 miles to the evergreen forested area there are views of the Jemez highlands.
I particularly enjoyed the trail segment that parallels the canyon of Vallecito Creek starting at about 1 mile in – the canyon is 200 – 300 foot deep in places. The road-trail is very smooth and can easily handle small groups of up to 6 or 7 hikers. Although I was there on a gorgeous Saturday mid-morning, I did not see another person.
Take a walking stick and for sure wear a hat – the first few miles are very exposed to the sun. Carry water and snacks and wear a jacket that can be shucked and carried or put in a pack. The initial climb has a short downhill piece, but it doesn’t last long. At the top of that first climb I gave my dog some water, and she clearly needed it – going through a bowl in less than a minute – try that using only your tongue! When hiking with a dog, I always advise carrying a bowl and more water and leashing your dog. The Santa Fe National Forest rule on dogs is (from the SFNF website):
"Dogs may not be left unattended, and they must be leashed and cleaned up after."
Which applies to both trails and campgrounds. I know it’s tempting to unleash your dog and let it run but remember other hikers may be just around the bend with dogs and/or children.
DRIVES – I haven’t been able to scope any drives yet as forest roads open April 15, so assessing their condition hasn’t been possible yet. We have always done our first drive of spring on the NM 4 – NM 485 – FR 376 - NM 126 - NM 4 loop. I don’t know exactly why we always do it first, but we are never disappointed! It usually has some minor wash-boarding and is at its best when dry. Even with the Jumping Mouse conservation fencing the drive is still one of the prettiest in the Jemez and has a town component in Jemez Springs that’s perfect for lunch, hot springs, and libations. FR 376 can be busy at times, particularly weekends and holidays. If you have the luck to be free during the week this is a place you shouldn’t miss.
The first 1.8 miles above (north of) the Porter (Rio Guadalupe) bridge does not have conservation fencing and the Rio Cebolla is open for fishing and foot soaking. A fun extension to the drive is to turn left on NM 126 toward Fenton Lake and the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery in lieu of turning right toward La Cueva – both great destinations themselves.
La Cueva is also a great stop on the way back with a super USFS Day Use area on the Rio San Antonio with a roughly 1-mile round trip trail that crosses and then follows the Rio down though a mixed evergreen forest in a unique canyon. Sundries and fishing gear are available at Amanda’s Country Store and Hidden Valley Sporting Goods. This little mountain town also has two inns, a church, and a liquor store. How can you miss?
While driving this loop there are two cool short trails that provide a respite from being in the car:
A short hike of 0.7 miles round trip is accessed from FR 376 at approximately 8.2 miles from NM 4 on the right going north or 3.8 miles below (south of) Porter Bridge over the Rio Guadalupe. The road is gated against vehicles, and there are a few informal parking spaces near the gate. Go around the gate on the right side and head to the river in 0.35 miles. It’s a bit cool for wading now, but it’s a great spot to wade in warmer weather.
After crossing the Porter Bridge (going north) there is a pullout on the right in about 100 feet or so. There is room for 2 or 3 cars. A gate is situated about 20 feet from FR 376, pass it on either side to follow an old forest road along the Rio Guadalupe. The trail is easily walked and at places there are small access trails on the right going to the river. This is another fun spot to wade the Rio Guadalupe and is also a great trail to access the brown trout fishing in the upper river. The photo shows the trail at about 100 feet in after the gate. A 10 -15-minute walk one way is a great break from riding in the car!
CAMPING – Camping in the Jemez comes in 3 forms: Organized Campgrounds, Dispersed or Dry camping, and Backpacking. I ran across a USFS post from last year that is worth sharing:
(2021) "We issued 45 citations for illegal campfires and recorded 39 abandoned campfires during the two weeks the forest was under Stage 1 fire restrictions. Fortunately, none of those incidents escalated into a wildfire," Acting Forest Supervisor Debbie Cress said.
That’s a total of 84 illegal fires in two weeks under Stage 1 restrictions! Each had a chance of becoming a wildfire that could burn down my forest and my home. Yes, I take that personally and hope you do too. Sorry to preach—enough said.
Campgrounds – Six Jemez campgrounds are open in April, and the remainder will open in May. The big change this year is that Redondo Campground will only be open for Memorial Day weekend, after which the campground will be closed for renovation. The table below includes the dozen public campgrounds available inside the Jemez Mountains. There are commercial campgrounds on the periphery of the Jemez, but they are not included here. Group campsites are also not included, but websites for the 12 campgrounds listed contain information for group camping.
2022 Jemez Mountains Campground Table
Dispersed/Dry Camping – With the forest road openings dry camping season starts. Most dry campers are in RVs, but tents and other modes are also allowed. Dry camps can be set on most forest roads, and those that have restrictions are generally well marked. The maximum stay is 14 days, and all dry campers are encouraged to check USFS fire restrictions and act both responsibly and safely when making campfires. As the season progresses dry camp site areas will be reported in this column.
For a mid-April dry camping choice my pick would be FR 376 – see Hiking for directions. This is a great time of year for this stretch before school lets out and the crowds roll in. Dry camp sites are generally north of Porter Bridge (south of Porter there are some great tent campsites). Due to conservation restrictions, there are some limits on camping zones:
The first 1.8 miles above the bridge are open for dry camping,
The next 1.8 miles (ending at the next bridge over the Cebolla) are closed to help save the Jemez Jumping Mouse.
The next 6.2 miles are open for dry camping. Tip: Good camping areas from 5 – 8 miles above the bridge - look for dirt roads on right for cool dry camp sites.
Obviously, the crowds are thicker on weekends, so if you can get away with it go during the week! The first FR 376 stretch above Porter is also open for fishing the Rio Cebolla.
Backpacking – The four most pristine aeras for Jemez backpacking are the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, Bandelier Wilderness, Dome Wilderness and the Valles Caldera. The backpacking season really gets going in May when it’s a bit warmer and tapers off in October. There are also many backpacking opportunities in the Santa Fe National Forest West. Starting next month, a backpacking contact and info list will be included in this column.
FISHING – The lower Jemez River continues to provide early spring fishing opportunities, but as stockings wane fishing will become harder – luckily this is countered by stocking at higher elevations which should start soon. Fenton Lake is now open and fishing moderately well. Fishing for wild brown and cutthroat trout improves dramatically with the opening of forest roads and will continue to improve through September.
Stocked Fish: The best locations to find stocked fish in early spring are:
Fenton Lake – Now open, and should be good through mid-summer, cycling somewhat with the stocking schedules.
Jemez River – Battleship Rock once stocking transitions to higher elevations.
Rio Cebolla – accessed from FR 378 above Fenton Lake (stocked area is in Fenton Lake State Park).
Rio de Las Vacas – the FR 20 segment was recently stocked – great stream.
This change to higher elevation stocking is close and may even have happened by the time this is published. The Chama below Abiquiu dam was stocked the week of April 1st and the first mile or so below the dam should fish well for triploid rainbows. The spring trout stocking table is presented below with data from the first few weeks of April and more to come.
Michael B. and I fished Fenton Lake April 8. Skies were blue and water cold. We started around 10 AM and gave up at about I PM. Yes, I said gave up. We have fished that lake together many times and never had a double skunk until April 8! I tried everything but dynamite. On the way to lunch it hit me that I probably owe a karmic debt for all the fish I’ve caught – hopefully this squares the score. The best thing about this fishing trip turned out to be the Taco Plate at Hwy. 4 Café.
Fishing Fenton Lake from a small craft allows access to the entire lake. Being on a gorgeous piece of water in a float tube, kick-boat, canoe, etc. is (usually—see above) an advantage. The lake is restricted to electric motors or paddling.
Wild Fish: The last part of April is a perfect time to start hunting wild fish. The fish should start looking up soon as insect activity increases with warmer weather, so break out the dry flies. With the opening of forest roads many more miles of Jemez trout streams can be accessed. Some of the forest roads that lead to wild brown trout waters include:
FR 376 portion that parallels the Rio Guadalupe.
FR 20 segment that parallels the Rio de Las Vacas south of NM 126.
FR 376 segment that parallels the Rio Cebolla. Note: The Cebolla is open for for fishing and wading 1.8 miles above (upstream of) the Porter Bridge.
FR 264 which parallels the Rito Penas Negras
FR 103 crosses the Rio Puerco East at a small campground/day use area and is
good brown trout fishing both up- and downstream.
We are approaching the Salmon and Golden stonefly hatch period. Predicting the hatch start times and locations is beyond my expertise – but at this time of year I start looking for stonefly activity. I have never hit a big stonefly hatch in the Jemez, but I’m not giving up either!
Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) fishing is also good this time of year. At the altitudes they are found there are few large hatches and presentation becomes more important than fly selection. These guys are in small waters and are very spooky, so being stealthy becomes a virtue when fishing for them. In general, the roads to RGCT water are rougher than the brown trout roads and usually require a 4WD vehicle to get to a trailhead for the hike to the stream. Some of the forest roads that lead to RGCT steam access include:
FR 314 through the 7 Springs Fish Hatchery to the Rio Cebolla RGCT water above the gate.
FR 70 is the southern access road to the south San Pedro Parks RGCT streams such as the Rito Las Perchas and Rio de Las Vacas.
FR 103 and FR 93 access the central SPPW streams e.g., upper Rio Puerco.
FR 289 and FR 142 access Capulin Creek in the Bandelier Wilderness.
NM 4 is the access to Frijoles Creek trail in the Bandelier National Monument.
FR 100 is the access road for getting to the Canones Creek trailhead.
FR 280 (and a bit of FR 281) accesses Peralta Creek south of the VCNP.
Many of these RGCT streams are threatened by a brown trout invasion that makes it tough for RGCT to compete. Even though some RGCT waters are standard regulation (5 fish per day) streams I recommend catch and release as most are the result of recovery efforts to reestablish RGCT to their native waters – let’s give them a chance.